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September 30, 2008

'Pulpit Freedom Sunday' Tally: 31+ Sermons, 6 Complaints With IRS

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has filed six complaints with the Internal Revenue Service after dozens of clergy participated in a challenge to rules that ban politicking from the pulpit.

At least 31 pastors took part in "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" (Sept. 28), according to the initiative's organizers at the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian law firm based in Arizona.

"These pastors flagrantly violated the law and now must deal with the consequences," said AU executive director Barry W. Lynn.

Pastors endorsed Sen. John McCain for president in five of the six churches, Lynn said.

Gary McCaleb, senior counsel with ADF, said: "It's not a matter of separation of church and state when you've got the IRS in the pew. That's oppression of free speech."

McCaleb said 31 pastors who agreed to participate in the plan preached on Sunday. The ADF has asked the pastors, most of whom are evangelical, to send their sermons to the law firm, which plans a court challenge of the IRS rules against partisan politicking by tax exempt organizations.

Asked if all the participating pastors had endorsed a candidate for president, McCaleb said, "I think some had a pretty direct statement." He said the goal was to find a group of pastors who supported an "exercise of faith" that could lead to a Supreme Court case.

Americans United's complaints were filed against: Calvary Chapel on the King's Highway, Philadelphia; Bethlehem First Baptist Church, Bethlehem, Ga.; Fairview Baptist Church, Edmond, Okla.; Warroad Community Church, Warroad, Minn; New Life Church in West Bend, Wis., and First Southern Baptist Church, Buena Park, Calif.

Earlier: Endorsing from the Pulpit | Pastors launch challenge of IRS rules on endorsements (Sept. 25, 2008).

Comments

These pastors are being dishonest. They can renounce their tax exempt status at any time and be free to say and do exactly what they please. What they cannot do is have it both ways which is what they want. Nobody is forcing them to be tax exempt.

If the preachers think they can go on without Government supports--tax breaks, etc--let'em.

They should have the guts to put their tax-exempt status where their flapping, feculent gums are.

I, personally, think churches should be taxed at the same rate as individual tax-payers. If they go broke, too effin' bad...

There is no such law such as "Separation of Church and State". The liberal wackos have a dream to destroy what little of Christianity is left. The United States has witnessed the toughest of times since people have tried to dispose of Christianity. This country was founded on religious principles and nothing else. Let the preachers preach and the congress do what they do best....nothing.

"This country was founded on religious principles and nothing else."

J Sabo, that's just not true. You're either ignorant of history or just being provocative, but either way, you're wrong.

I would really appreciate intelligent discussions on this topic. As I understood it, the original intent of "Separation" was to keep the State from dictating what was taught in the Church, thereby eliminating a State-run Church. The understanding that the Church should not make direct candidate statements was brought in long after the original understanding. I can see how this seems unfair, but the "rule" applies to all non-profits who do not pay tax, not just churches or religious organizations. Would it not be more productive and responsible if Churches taught about the issues (how every political issue has a moral basis that we, as Christians, ought to be examining) and then trust that the individual would know for whom they ought to vote?

The blatant and implied politics from the pulpit have caused me to struggle with my beliefs. As a baby in Christianity this has been detrimental in my chance for growth. I know I am not alone in vacating the church as a result. It is too bad. They do not know how many people have been pushed away from the church, only God knows how this is affecting the message of Christ's forgiveness and eternal redemption. I for one am avoiding the Church until the election is over.

Because these churches (just like other non-profits) voluntarily chose to be tax-exempt - they should abide by the law. If they want to preach politics from the pulpit, they should - but they should be willing to give up their tax-exempt status.

I happen to go to a small congregation that is (no surprise) not tax-exempt. After our fellowship meal we were going to have a time of prayer, but at first it turned into a discussion of politics. Again. *sigh*. I hear so much about politics, that I don't need to hear anymore of it at church too. Thankfully it was quite easy for me to walk up and go to another room and talk to someone else about something else.

Tax-exempt status for churches is a privilege, not a right. And, just like any other privilege, it is subject to certain eligibility and behavior criteria. I don't believe that being a house of worhsip to give any congregation a sense of entitlement to their tax exempt status. And, their decision to do so subjects other charities and non-profit organizations to higher scrutiny. In fact, the tax return form and instructions for tax exempt organizations has been overhauled -- and made more detailed and difficult -- EXACTLY because of this type of abuse by tax exempt organizations. As was said above, these churches are free to renounce their tax exempt status and become fully engaged in the political system, AS TAXPAYERS.

"When religion controls government political liberty dies and when government controls religion religious liberty dies."
I don't know who spoke these wise words; perhaps a forefather who escaped to these shores to avoide religious persecution. I could not agree more and we in the United States would do well to remember this.

"The United States has witnessed the toughest of times since people have tried to dispose of Christianity."

Tougher than being enslaved, the Civil War, The Trails of Tears, natural disasters-such as those that leveled San Francisco and Galveston with great loss of life, Two World Wars, the reign of Jim Crow/lynch law, and the Great Depression?

The poverty and maternal mortality rates are smaller than when I was born, when Truman was President, cars are much safer, old people have largely been lifted from extreme poverty and have medicare, vaccinations have greatly decreased child mortality and complications from illnesses, and my family and workplace look like America, instead of like a shamefully racist, segregated country.

My cousin with an HIV infection is doing well, thank you, but no thanks at all to conservative Christians.

My notably devout, good and kind great grandmother died a very horrible death from the genetic disease that I have, now effectively and inexpensively treated. I know which chromosome is the cause, too.

My many siblings and I, despite growing up in modest, rural means, are all college educated, two with graduate degrees, along with our children.

With the scary stuff going on with the Wall Street Crisis, perhaps there will be a new Great Depression, God forbid, which means that both started under Republican Presidents, the latter famously "Born-Again," who came to office as "compassionate conservatives."

Let's pray there is no repeat of the Great Depression...and that we'll have the strength, thoughtfulness, wisdom and compassion to meet the challenges if times do go bad.

But, I'm getting old, tired and cranky...

Who wants to go to a church to hear the pastor shill for a political candidate? If I want to become appraised of the merits of either candidate, I can watch the news, read newspapers and magazines and go online. I go to church to study the Word, fellowship with my Chrisitan brothers and sisters, and focus on Christ. Why would a pastor waste precious pulpit time lifting up a man, instead of lifting up the Son of Man? What can either candidate do for me, that is not superceded by what Christ has done and continues to do. Churches need to remember they are here in service to the Kingdom, before this country. If a pastor feels strongly about a candidate, they can go down to the campaign office and volunteer on their own time. Churches that become political operatives should be taxed. That's the law, it's not unfair, and churches should abide by it.

I went through this with my senior pastor last winter before the primaries/caucuses, and I finally persuaded him to preach the morals from the pulpit and allow our godly parishioners to figure out for themselves whom to vote for. As has been said in a couple of comments here, even non-religious organizations that get federal or state funding are forbidden from politicking -- although individual workers are allowed to endorse anyone they like OUTSIDE of work. So far, the US government refuses to clamp down on what is said and taught from the pulpits of American churches, but if the Scandinavian countries are any indication of where liberal politics will take us, we could be in for a heap of federal meddling by the next generation. God forbid that!

I firmly believe that the church house is a worship house. This is not a place for a pastor to preach his opinions, whether political or not. His duty is to exposite the Word of God, to bring the congregants and himself to a state of worship. When he endorses a candidate or voices an opipion on a political issue, he detracts from the Gospel. Think of Wilberforce and Newton. Newton never offered a sermon in support of abolition, but he preached on the horrors of slave-trading by how it was addressed biblically. The Word of God pierced his parisioners' hearts and Wilberforce was among them. Our focus should always first be on the City of God, not the City of Man.

Why are churches treated differently in this matter than other non-profit 501c3 organizations such as Planned Parenthood? PP not only endorses candidates but they also provide compaign contributions! While I believe churches should focus on the Gospel, I don't understand why they are treated differently than other non-profits.

I suppose Jessie Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Jeremirah Wright come under a different set of rules than other pastors. What part of freedom of speech do we not understand? Pior to Lyndon Johnson getting this law passed in the 50s, the country had no issue with what was said from the pulpit, and in most communities the church was the center location where political meetings were held. Churches are the first line of defense when there are emergency needs, and that has never been more true than in today economic situation. I fail to understand some of the comments here when this country was founded on religous freedom, and the next church to lose its tax exemption due to a pastor backing a canidate will be number 0ne (1) Barry Lynn and the ACLU operation on scare tactics.

Do a little bibical research and find out what John the Baptist, all the phophets, and Jesus preached!!!! Certainly no one can say it was not political. The government of Rome said you could have any religion you wanted so long as you acknowledged that the emperior was the number one God. Thats not what John the Baptist preached...That's not what Jesus preached...John 14:6 I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father but by me. He cleaned out the money changers who were robbing the poor. He was not politicaly correct...That preaching got them killed and it was against the law. Should the Christian church do any less than the one with whom they worship????

Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to call it to repentance. The world stands condemned already because of their unbelief. The governments of this day all stand in need of repentance. When preachers speak the only person to promote is Jesus Christ the Son of God. We need not endorse any other candidate!

I have no problem with a pastor preaching the word of God. But, when the pastor is racist, sexist, or someone who favors classism the pulpit is off limits.Let's be honest some Pastor's fit that category. Additionally, if the church has a 501c3 the pulpit should be neutral.

I think that if Pastors recommend who to vote for they should give up their tax exempt status. If they refuse it should be taken away from them all.

As a tax lawyer who specializes in representing churches and other tax-exempt organizations, and who has represented several organizations, accused of engaging in improper political activity, in IRS audits, I am very interested to learn (perhaps a couple of years down the road) whether it is constitutional for Congress to condition a church's tax-exempt status on the willingness of its pastor to avoid endorsing or opposing a political candidate.

While I respect those who have engaged in this challenge, the most relevant Supreme Court precedent is against them. In Taxation With Representation v. Regan, the Court ruled that it was not unconstitutional for Congress to condition exemption under Section 501(c)(3) on the prohibition of susbstantial lobbying by the organization.

However, there is no precedent directly on point, and it is important to have the question settled.

There are other, more common problems with the prohibition on political activity. Once you get past the clear "no-nos," e.g., express endorsements, contributions to candidates, and candidate ratings based on the EO's issue positions, the IRS typically uses a "facts and circumstances" analysis to determine whether an activity violated the prohibition. Because it is virtually impossible to know in advance what conduct is permitted, and what is prohibited, the statute is impermissibly vague in application, and "chills" free speech.

Now that would be a question worth litigating!

These churches also run the risk of eventually becoming nothing more than branch offices of the Republican Party. I don't think that will be helpful in advancing the Gospel.

The question for me is: "Why did they preach as they did"?

If they preached their messages because they believed that this is what God wanted them to do, they were led by the Spirit of God and informed by the Word of God - then fine.

If, however, they were trying to make a "political" point - then they were in the wrong for their actions.

If Christians want the right to endorse a candidate from the pulpit, then what stops the government from pushing a State Religion on the churches? The Anglican Church was the only church England recognized for centuries and many parts of the mid-East only allow one religion. And how would these protestant Christians feel if they become the minority religion in the US and some other religious group begins to dominate them? Then how will they feel about wanting their rights? Or will they change their minds and decide that we should indeed have separation of church and state. This is part of the Constitution for our protection, not for repression. Please read your history books and get back to a pulpit of love and grace.

Jesus looked at the same coin and said, "Give to Ceasar what is Ceasar's and to God what is God's." Same coin .. seems like He brought church and state together, not separated them. Our forefather wrote God into the Constitution because they knew that for the New America to be successful they needed God in it .. so now why is it wrong for a preacher to talk about the state from the pulpit and tell people why one candidate will be better for America than another .. point out the gooda and the evils. There isn't any. It's not about the money .. tas-exemption .. it's about the principle of religion helping to make America the great nation it is..

After 9/11, my Pastor wrote an article for the church newsletter, stating that it was clear from the events that had unfolded, that our president was chosen by God to lead us in these times. He said no other person, least of all Al Gore, could have provided the Godly leadership our nation needed. And he praised God that we, as a nation, were faithful to our Lord in voting for President Bush. Now, as you might suspect, he has a different opinion, and admits how difficult it is for us to understand God's will, and judge wisely who will be the best of the candidates. I hope we all learn this lesson in humility.

The bottomline is that plitics is seondary for Christians. Our focus must be on God and his word above all else. I am not saying ignore politics, but for Christians to realize our priority as Christians is God first

It's okay for Democrat political candidates to be invited to black churches and speak from the pulpits about their agendas but try it for a Republican and the left cries foul! You can't have it both ways, Liberals! Police your own churches why don't you?

I have asked this question of several sources and have yet to receive an answer. How do the churches that have political candidates, mostly Democrats, speak from their pulpits maintain their tax free status? I have a 501 C 3 corporation and the rules are very clearly stated that my business cannot in anyway take or publicly support a partisan stand on anything political without endangering my tax free status. How do those churches get by obviously taking a partisan stand?

In my PhD dissertation, question 20 of a survey asks Is it possible to have religious freedom in the non-profit Church? 100 responses were received. 35% of the respondents said they did not know if it is possible to have religious freedom in the non-profit Church and 19% answered no, it is not possible. 14% were uncertain. Finally, 32% replied yes, it is possible to have religious freedom in the non-profit Church. More research is warranted.

It is sad that even a discussion on such an important matter seems to fall along ideological lines rather than spiritual ones. Since the Johnson Amendment didn't come along until 1954 (and history is clear on why even that happened) it should be obvious that the founding fathers did not believe it should be a constitutional issue. The First Amendment was clearly in step with the original document, that is to LIMIT governmental intrusion into private and religious life. Therefore the statement that "Congress shall make no law concerning the (government's) establishment of religion, etc....further prohibited federal instrusion into the "free exercise thereof". Recommend everyone reading this also read Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists which clarifies the amendment's intention and makes waste of the so called 'separation of church and state' myth. Remember also that the concept was not used in deciding any Supreme Court decisions until 1947 simply because the basis for such did not lie in any official document, including the first amendment which only refers to what the government CAN'T do, not what churches CAN do. By the way, contrary to what revisionists would have us believe, the Constitution was put in place to LIMIT government and EMPOWER the people, not the other way around. Finally, and this is where the rub really comes in, the Bible (which is really what is in question here) says that believers are to submit to government authority UNLESS that authority has been overstepped, in which case the church is obligated to obey scripture rather than man. How christians apply this biblical principle is left up to the individual.